Western’s Unity Club members gathered in Red Square on Wednesday, March 2, with brightly colored posters, stickers and wristbands in hand. The club was taking part in an annual event promoting an end to the r-word.
“Spread the word to end the word” is a campaign asking people to pledge against use of the r-word. The r-word was originally introduced as a medical term with clinical connotations, but is now recognized as derogatory and demeaning toward people with disabilities, according to the R-word website.
Unity Club, along with other organizations nationwide, aims to change this rhetoric permanently.
The club formed as a merger of the Sharing Interests Forming Friendships and Special Olympics club at Western. SIFF focused on being more of a mentorship program for those with disabilities, whereas Unity Club works to organize more inclusive events for the whole university.
Their mission remains the same: forming friendships between those with and without disabilities, said Brittney Brown, a Unity Club member.
Brown has been a Unity Club member for three years. She was crowned Miss West Sound in October 2015, and has been using her platform within the pageant community to speak on disability awareness and inclusion.
Brown’s passion for this community started with her old neighbor living with Down syndrome.
“Through her, my perspective really changed,” Brown said. “The second you have a personal relationship with someone who has a disability, it really opens your mind.”
During her freshman year, Brown was paired with a student to mentor from the Community Transitions school, Sydney Watson. They have built a strong bond over the past three years.
“We’re soul sisters,” Watson said.
Along with banning the r-word, the club wants to promote person-first language, Brown said. Person-first language means saying “person in a wheelchair” or “person with a disability’” instead of a disabled person, Brown said.
The club also works to involve the community as a whole beyond Western through the sports leagues run by Special Olympics Washington.
Nanette Jackson has been in the club since her freshman year and has played soccer, basketball and coached flag football for these integrated teams.
Jackson said the athletes’ uplifting attitudes motivated her to become more involved.
“That’s really what sold it for me,” Jackson said. “The athletes are incredibly amazing.”
The club will continue their sports season at the state basketball tournament in Wenatchee this weekend and will start up soccer next quarter, Jackson said. They are hoping to put on a field day event in the spring where other schools can come out and play outside together, she said.
Brown said her overall goals for the club include increasing awareness and encouraging more people to get involved in order to support their inclusive mission.
Being a part of Unity benefits both those with and without disabilities by opening their eyes to what having a disability is like and what friendship should be, she said.
“Knowing that everyone is feeling like they’re accepted and in a safe space, I think that’s the most special thing about our club,” Brown said.
*Editor’s Note: Nanette Jackson is a former Western Front reporter.